How many times a week do you shop? Let me rephrase that: How many times a week do you bring something home in a plastic bag? Well, if you live in Chestertown, MD, where I used to live, that would be never. The mayor has recently passed a legislation banning the use of plastic bags by all stores and restaurants in the town; instead, paper or biodegradable bags must be used. Kudos, Mayor Bailey. The businesses might hate you right now, but the environment loves you. (Chestertown’s Plastic_Bag Ordinance)
It’s hard to appreciate how much plastic surrounds us until you start collecting it. As an experiment, I put all non-recyclable plastic in a separate trash bag (which itself is made of plastic) and sure enough, it didn’t take long to fill it. Think about it: the majority of foods are packaged in plastic. Most products come wrapped in plastic, from toilet paper and tooth paste to a deck of cards or a DVD. Not to mention the plastic lids that adorn almost every bottle, colorful jester hats meant to amuse us with their somersaults as we toss them into the garbage. We live in a plastic world, wear plastic shoes, drive plastic cars, see the world through plastic lenses. And for most people, everything we bring into our plastic lives is transported in a handy, disposable T-shirt bag. Where do all those bags end up?
“Thank you for shopping with us” says the bag that blows across the street at you sit at a red light. “Come again!” calls your doggie bag as it skips away to play in the gutter. Birds’ nests advertise for stores like Giant and Walmart, the scraps of plastic providing both food and lullabies for chicks as they flutter in the breeze. And then there’s the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the hangout spot for plastics of all types. Bags meet cups, soda rings tango with bottle caps, lost toys find joy again riding the waves until the sun starts to photodegrade them into tiny but still toxic pieces that look frighteningly similar to plankton. And then they become fish food. And then we eat those fish. Yummm.
If you’d rather discriminate against plastic than fellow humans, watch the documentary Bag It. They don’t like to eat poisoned fish, either.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area of the Pacific Ocean created by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. It’s a plastic soup that in some areas has concentrations of plastic 40 times greater than that of plankton. That means there is 40 times more plastic than food for the marine animals to eat. Scientists estimate its size to be at least twice the area of Texas.
80% of the plastic and trash that finds its way into our oceans comes from the land. It takes about five years for garbage from the west coast of the United States to make it to the gyre and about one year from Asia. Plastic debris in the ocean doesn’t biodegrade. It photodegrades, meaning sunlight and water break it down to smaller and smaller pieces that are mistaken for food by fish, sea birds and marine mammals.
More than 260 species of marine animals are affected by plastic debris in the ocean, either by ingestion or entanglement. Laysan Albatross, sea turtles, monk seals, whales and many species of fish have been found with large amounts of plastic in their stomachs. (Bag It Movie)
They care about humans too (did you know BPA is a synthetic estrogen and phthalates block testosterone?) and the environment, and they love to talk about all the fun aspects of plastic like BPAs, phthalates, animal stomachs that look more like bouncy balls, and landfills heaping with – you guessed it – PLASTIC!
My boyfriend shakes his head every time I pull out my reusable cloth shopping bags at the store. He also refuses to watch Bag It. Apathy? Or fear of learning the truth? It is a scary thought, knowing that the Barbie world your daughter lives in may cause her to never have kids of her own.